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August 31, 2023

Regional ABCs: UK daily local newspaper circulation down 20% in first half of 2023

The Irish News overtook the Press & Journal, which has been the best-selling regional daily since 2018.

By Aisha Majid

Circulation of the UK’s regional print daily newspapers fell by an average of 21% year-on-year in the first six months of 2023, according to the latest ABC figures.

The overall average decline is calculated on the basis of the combined average circulation of the 53 daily titles that have reported data for both the January to June period in 2022 and 2023. At the time of publishing, the report for the Oldham Times had not yet been published on the ABC website.

Excluding digital copies, print circulation alone fell by a combined 21%.

This decline represents an increase on the same period last year, when we reported on a 16% average drop year-on-year.

Each of the 53 titles individually also reported a circulation decline. It should be noted that not all UK regional dailies are audited by ABC.

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Belfast-based Irish News saw the smallest decline of 8% (circulation of 25,010) followed by National World’s The Scotsman (8,249, down 10%).

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This meant Irish News became the UK’s top-selling regional newspaper, displacing the long-running leader DC Thomson’s Aberdeen-based Press & Journal into second place (circulation of 24,852, down 13% year-on-year). The Press & Journal had been on top of the ranking since 2018.

Third best-selling title was Dundee’s The Courier also published by DC Thomson (19,264, down 13%) while fourth was Newsquest’s Eastern Daily Press (13,907, down 15%).

Manchester Evening News reported the largest circulation decline, as average circulation fell by 59% to 8,344 compared to the same six-month period last year.

The reduction was due to Reach’s decision to end free copies of the Manchester Evening News (as well as its free Manchester Weekly News) as a result of rising newsprint costs and the brand's large online presence making the outlay unnecessary. Free copies accounted for just under half of its print circulation from January to June 2022.

The paid-for circulation of the Manchester Evening News fell by 24%, from an average of 10,911 in the first half of 2022 compared to 8,344 in 2023.

Hull Daily Mail (average circulation of 6,813 per issue, down 33% year-on-year), Coventry Telegraph (3,681, down 33%), Teesside Gazette (5,640, down 31%), Plymouth’s The Herald (4,449, down 31%), Paisley Daily Express (1,890, down 31%) and Nottingham Post (4,570, down 30%) - all owned by Reach - all saw circulation declines of over 30%.

Hull Daily Mail, The Herald and Teesside Gazette similarly saw the biggest circulation drops in 2022.

Newsstand and subscription sales both down by a fifth

Free copies saw the largest decline among the different types of circulation. Combined average circulation of free copies was down 81% to 2,467, driven largely by the ending of free copies of the Manchester Evening News.

Only four daily titles reporting to ABC continue to provide free copies: the Shropshire Star, Express and Star, Dorset Echo and Brighton’s The Argus.

The bulk of circulation, however, was in the form of paid single copies (281,979, down 19% year-on-year). Paid subscriptions made up the second biggest chunk of circulation (83,462, also down 19%).

Only a minority of publications share digital subscription data and ABC’s digital circulation data only includes subscribers who take a full replica of the printed product, meaning the figures only partially represents title’s digital subscription reach.

Among the titles reporting digital data to ABC, Irish News reported the most subscribers accessing digital replica copies (3,491) followed by the Press & Journal (2,664).

Regional press website audience figures: Manchester Evening News is biggest title

Website traffic, whilst massive compared to print circulation, is also down for many publishers.

According to the latest data from Ipsos iris for July, the UK’s best-ranked regional news site, Manchester Evening News, reached 11.1 million people (down 31% year-on-year) in the month - with 61.9 million page views (down 36%).

Second-placed Birmingham Live, also published by Reach, was accessed by 10 million people (down 26%) and had 60.7 million page views (no change).

National World's best-ranked brand The Scotsman reached 3.1 million people (up 6% year-on-year) and had 12.7 million page views (up 24%).

At the publisher level, Reach, which is largely advertising-supported, consistently ranks among the UK’s top online organisations for audience, regularly reaching three-quarters of UK internet users aged over 15. While Ipsos does not track audience to Reach's regional sites as a group, audience to Reach's national and local sites was 34.9 million in July (down 7%) while there were 992 million page views (down 23%).

National World's brands had an audience of 15.3 million (down 8% year-on-year) and 126 million page views (also down 8%).

Some 13.5 million people in the UK accessed Newsquest's digital brands (down 2%), while page views were down 21% to 103 million.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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